“Heads up play.”
“Putting his body on the line.”
What do these phrases have in common? They’re all clichés one expects to hear from commentators in round two as Marcus Smart’s DPOY body goes tumbling to the ground for the umpteenth time. Anyone else get anxiety in round one thinking of the white and green that’ll be scraped across the TD Garden in Round Two?
Folks, I’ve got the flop sweats.
The opening salvo didn’t disappoint in that regard, with DeMar DeRozan wilting like spinach and 260 pound Nikola Vucevic turning to tipping over as his primary strategy to defend Milwaukee’s superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Here’s the thing, I don’t want to whine about officiating. I don’t envy their positions, and trying to referee a downhill, once-in-a-generation paint force like Giannis seems nigh impossible. Yes, I do know that he draws fouls at one of the highest rates in the league. I also recognize he gets some superstar calls among missed ones too. In the end I think it usually evens out. But, one place of growing frustration for me, and many other Bucks fans after the first round, are the preponderance of offensive foul calls against Giannis.
Through 21 postseason games last season, Giannis was credited with 12 offensive foul calls, per Basketball Reference.
This year he’s already matched that number...in five games.
Not all of them are charges, some are screening issues or pushing off a defender while trying to go up for a lob or gain position. The fact remains, the Bulls were actively throwing away their defensive strategy in favor of flopping. Still build the wall, just make it out of Lincoln Logs rather than sturdy cedar. Chicago coach Billy Donovan basically admitted he showed his team Brad Davison tape and used that as the charge-baiting blueprint to stop Giannis.
Before the game, Billy Donovan said he thought the Bulls had even more chances to take charges against Giannis Antetokounmpo and he was not lying.— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) April 28, 2022
Derrick Jones Jr. just got called for a block, but Donovan is challenging the call.
Giannis huffed, and he puffed, and the Bulls blew themselves in. In the first quarter of Game Five alone there were about four different instances of Bulls defenders simply relying on sacrificing their body rather than any sort of challenge at the rim against Antetokounmpo. There is a silver lining in that Boston really shouldn’t have to resort to this. The Celtics have rangier, beefier guys in Grant Williams and Al Horford just to name a few who shouldn’t need to hit the deck as their primary tactic. Still, it’s a tried and true method that genuinely bore some fruit for Chicago throughout the series, so you can bet Boston will keep it in their back pocket, especially Smart. Yes, the Bucks will likely flop some too, although I feel like Wesley Matthews is the one who partakes in it the most.
As a guide to any infuriating torture that may (let’s hope not) await, here are five flop calls to keep your eye on for Round Two.
The Off-Ball Help Flop
One of the oldest tricks in the book, this tactic relies upon carefully watching Giannis propel himself downhill and noticing when your teammate is woefully beaten. No matter, the answer is right in front of you: simply slide beneath Giannis as he starts his gather! Here’s a perfectly executed example by DeMar DeRozan. Unfortunately for him, the refs gave the 2-time MVP the benefit of the doubt here.
This one is the most dangerous in terms of its ability to injure Giannis. It’s also the most annoying, as it typically involves a player inserting themselves amidst a play already in progress, only to be rewarded by the refs. You should fear this sucker against the Celts, who will be shading defenders in front of Giannis time and again as he starts his move into the paint. Here’s another, and when you watch it live and see both Williams and DeRozan hit the deck, it looks like a charge. But when you examine it, DeRozan’s feet are basically moving backwards as Giannis gets there, the contact is minimal, and Williams just hits the deck for embellishment sake. But hey, it works, so they are incentivized to keep doing it!
At times Giannis’s unmatched athleticism and length works against him. Since he starts his move and gather so high on the floor, it gives an off-ball defender more time to see it happening and slide in well behind the play. Watch as Coby White tries that grift.
See how far up Giannis is when he starts this move:
One counter to this is likely an earlier pass by Giannis to a teammate, although we’ve seen his momentum still carry into a defender and result in a charge, or contorting his body around once more. Thankfully, the refs didn’t fall for this White attempt. Still, this is the one I that could be employed the most, even if it’s not the most annoying variety.
The On-ball Shoulder to Chest Flop
Look, anytime you’re 6’10”, built like bulls bred upon the hills of Switzerland and barrel-chested, you’ve gotta fall over when you can. That’s the path Vooch follows here, taking the power of Giannis and transferring it (h/t Isaac Newton) into his own body as he takes a rest upon the United Center court. This was a tactic used to perfection in game three by DeMar DeRozan, and one you’ll frequently see employed by beefier forwards with a speed disadvantage (a la Blake Griffin with Brooklyn last year) or by smaller players as a defense mechanism since it’s their last resort. It’s perhaps the most lethal weapon when wielded in the wrong hands. If Boston defenders opt to give Giannis a bit of space to coax him into taking jumpers, but he starts trying to push towards the rim, this could be in play.
The Backdown Flop
Post-ups may be a thing of the past, but with all of the switching in today’s game, sometimes a little guys just gotta let his body be ragdolled across the hardwood in hopes of preventing a big man from eating under the bucket. And it also stands in contrast to the fact that post defenders can go hogwild shoving their arms into a defender (which Giannis and Brook do too!) and then all of a sudden they reward a player for bailing out on the physicality because they can’t hang.
The Push-off Flop
Now, does Giannis make an overly dramatic motion with his arm that makes it appear as if he’s thrust the force of a thousand armies into DeRozan’s back? Sure! Was it that strong in reality? Probably not. This one can get Giannis in trouble though, but if he uses the kind of more controlled push-off as he does against Javonte Green here, it can yield some easy buckets, although I doubt the Celtics will allow anything quite that simple. A
The “What’s a guy gotta do to play basketball around here” Flop
Very sympathetic to Durant, who got called for an offensive foul. SVG is right, Smart is inside KD’s cylinder, and you shouldn’t be able to draw an offensive foul by contacting the face to the offensive player’s back. @OfficialChipC @NunnBetterRefs pic.twitter.com/g7j1EM2qa8— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 26, 2022
The above play should strike fear into the hearts of all Bucks fans. Yes, that is Kevin Durant, a top-five player in the league, simply standing up to full height and getting an offensive foul in the process by virtue of his longer bony elbows. You know what other player stands near 7’ with rangy limbs, and is likely to be guarded by Marcus Smart at times? Yup...hopefully this type of shenanigans is few and far between.
Here’s the positive spin: Giannis didn’t have any offensive foul calls from what I could tell on the box scores against the Celtics in the regular season. Milwaukee also never faced them at full strength after they had ironed out their league-best defense. If the flopping starts, Giannis will have to find counters, from quicker decisions on the pass to starting his move lower so he can euro-step to Bud keeping someone out of the dunker occasionally to prevent another body from being able to step up for the charge.
Let’s just hope we don’t need to pull out the flop cards against the Celts.